When a word is taken over into another language, its semantic structure as a rule undergoes great changes. Polysemantic words are usually adopted only in one or two of their meanings. Thus the word timbre that had a number of meanings in French was borrowed into English as a musical term only. The wordscargo and cask, highly polysemantic in Spanish, were adopted only in one of their meanings — ‘the goods carried in a ship’, ‘a barrel for holding liquids’ respectively.
In some cases we can observe specialisation of meaning, as in the word hangar, denoting a building in which aeroplanes are kept (in French it meant simply ’shed’) and revue, which had the meaning of ‘review’ in French and came to denote a kind of theatrical entertainment in English.
In the process of its historical development a borrowing sometimes acquired new meanings that were not to be found in its former semantic structure. For instance, the verb move in Modern English has developed the meanings of ‘propose’, ‘change one’s flat’, ‘mix with people’ and others that the French mouvoirdoes not possess. The word scope, which originally had the meaning of ‘aim, purpose’, now means ‘ability to understand’, ‘the field within which an activity takes place, sphere’, ‘opportunity, freedom of action’. As a rule the development of new meanings takes place 50 — 100 years after the word is borrowed.
The semantic structure of borrowings changes in other ways as well. Some meanings become more general, others more specialised, etc. For instance, the word terrorist, that was taken over from French in the meaning of ‘Jacobin’, widened its meaning to ‘one who governs, or opposes a government by violent means’. The word umbrella, borrowed in the meaning of a ’sunshade’ or ‘parasol’ (from It. ombrella <— ombra — shade) came to denote similar protection from the rain as well.
Usually the primary meaning of a borrowed word is retained throughout its history, but sometimes it becomes a secondary meaning. Thus the Scandinavian borrowings wing, root, take and many others have retained their primary meanings to the present day, whereas in the OE. fēolaze (MnE. fellow) which was borrowed from the same source in the meaning of ‘comrade, companion’, the primary meaning has receded to the background and was replaced by the meaning that appeared in New English ‘a man or a boy’.
Sometimes change of meaning is the result of associating borrowed words with familiar words which somewhat resemble them in sound but which are not at all related. This process, which is termed folk etymology, often changes the form of the word in whole or in part, so as to bring it nearer to the word or words with which it is thought to be connected, e.g. the French verb sur(o)under had the meaning of ‘overflow’. In English -r(o)under was associated by mistake withround — круглый and the verb was interpreted as meaning ‘enclose on all sides, encircle’ (MnE. surround). Old French estandard (L. estendere — ‘to spread’) had the meaning of ‘a flag, banner’. In English the first part was wrongly associated with the verb stand and the word standard also acquired the meaning of ’something stable, officially accepted’. Folk-etymologisation is a slow process; people first attempt to give the foreign borrowing its foreign pronunciation, but gradually popular use evolves a new pronunciation and spelling.
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